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by Gunnar Steinn February 08, 2017

If you really want to immerse yourself in the Icelandic culture and social life then you must take a dip into at least one of the many swimming pools that are dotted all over the country. Just like Italians are drawn every day to do a few ‘laps’ for their traditional “passeggiata” or evening walk on the local piazza, pools are for Icelanders the place where they meet, socialise, exchange news and gossip, swim or just relax and take it easy. A town will not even be considered as such if it doesn’t have a public pool ( sundlaug in Icelandic) and there are over 120 of them around Iceland, small and big, ranging from huge modern complexes with multilevel hot tubs to small concrete structures. Mostly outdoors, the majority of them are heated by geothermal waters and they are usually open all year round.

This tradition is not new, it can be traced back to the times of the Viking settlers who quickly realised that the abounding hot thermal pots offer an excellent way to unwind and get your body warm and into a state of true happiness. Which, let's be honest, is bliss considering the climate extremes in Iceland. Swimming lessons became compulsory in Iceland since 1943 so there is now more than one generation of locals who know how to swim.



Swimming pools rules in Iceland

If you want to blend in with the locals and be as inconspicuous as possible you better follow the swimming pool etiquette in Iceland. Is not as daunting as it may sound and even though you might’ve heard or read a few stories about it, the rules are very simple.

Before you go to the pool make sure you bring a bathing suit and a towel with you, even though you might be able to rent the latter at most pools. However if you are going to a natural hot pot, there might not be any facilities there so you should have everything with you. The entry fee for public pools is usually quite small and children under 6 go for free.

          1. Take off your shoes before entering the changing areas.

Most people leave their shoes around the entry area, you’ll see where they are. Don’t worry, they won’t go missing. If you prefer you can always put them in your locker, just make sure you take them off before walking into the changing room.

          2. Take everything off

Yes, you need to take all your clothes off before showering. This is perfectly normal in Iceland (as it is in quite many countries around Europe). Nobody will stare at you, but if you feel uncomfortable for whatever reason, just get on with it and proceed to the showers. Take your towel and swimming suit, so they’re ready for you when you come out of the shower.

            3. Shower

    Pools in Iceland are usually very lightly chlorinated to keep the water as close to its natural state as possible. Therefore it’s mandatory to shower thoroughly before entering the pool area so we keep it all nice and clean. If you don’t want to attract the wrath of an overzealous pool attendant or the other patrons, you better follow the rules, use soap and lather properly from head to toe. Yes, you will have to go through this and most pools only have communal shower areas (male and female are separate), and, no, you can’t have your swimming suit on while you shower. This is not the time to ponder about your modesty, just get into the spirit of it and do it.

                4. Put your swimming suit on

      Yes, we are very strict about showering without a bathing suit, but once you’ve gone over this, you’ll need to put one on to join everyone in the pool. We won’t care whether you’re wearing tight speedos, swimming shorts or whatever kind of swimming attire takes your fancy, as long as it’s not diving gear (check the link above, diving equipment is not allowed in public pools in Iceland). After the recent ‘free the nipple’ campaign in Iceland, women are now welcome to go topless in public pools if they want to.

               
        5. Walk to the pool and take a dip (don’t run, jump or dive in)

        You might not be used to walking outdoors scantily clad when the temperature is barely above freezing but it’s best not to run or dive in the pool. Just walk to it and then go in, the feeling of immersing yourself in the warm water will be so delicious that you’ll forget about any worries you had before that. It’s total bliss.

                   
        6. Dry yourself before returning to your locker

          One last thing to remember, you should dry yourself with your towel before walking back to the locker rooms as a common gesture of courtesy towards the other swimmers, and again to avoid being told off by a stern pool guard.


          Map of pools in Iceland

          With so many great pools and hot pots to choose from around Iceland, it can sometimes be a bit of a tough call to fit it all around your itinerary. We have prepared a map of the best ones for your reference so you can check it out when you plan your trip. Also at the bottom of this page you will find a map of pools and hot pots around Iceland.

          Reykjavik & Reykjanes

          Blue Lagoon

          A firm presence on the tourist trail, it’s conveniently located near Reykjavik and you can unwind there either on your way back to the airport or visit straight after arriving in Iceland. It’s quite pricey compared to communal swimming pools however it’s undeniably luxurious if you want to treat yourself to something special. You can certainly make a day out of it as there’s enough to do once you’re there apart from soaking in the silica blue waters, you can visit the Lava Restaurant where you can taste truly outstanding dishes prepared with fresh ingredients by award winning chef’s Viktor Örn Andrésson’s team.

          Laugardalslaug

          This is the biggest and the most modern swimming complex in Iceland with its own Olympic-size pool for swimming laps, indoor and outdoor areas with pools at different temperatures, saunas, steam bath, hot tubs, water slides and a huge jacuzzi that can fit 50 people and since 2012 a saltwater hot tub too.

          Nauthhólsvík Geothermal Beach

          It might not be what you expected in a city located as far north as Reykjavik, but this is a real beach where you can enjoy bathing in the sea or rather in the long shallow pool filled with geothermally heated seawater. There are also two steaming hot tubs, so despite the outside temperatures that are normally around 15C in the summer, you can still join the locals and have a day out on a sandy white beach.


          South Iceland

          Seljavallalaug

          This is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland which is located in a valley near Seljavellir under the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano. It got filled with ash during the 2010 eruption but a group of volunteers cleaned it the following year. It is a very basic concrete pool with no other facilities than some old changing rooms. The hike to get there is well worth it, as the views once you get to the pool are breathtaking.


          Secret Lagoon (Gamla Laugin)

          These are natural hot springs located in the village of Fludir on the Golden Circle route. You can book a tour to visit but it’s always best to go there outside of the tour hours as it will be less crowded and you can relax in the hot pool and even enjoy the spectacular show of the Northern lights in winter if you are lucky.


          Laugarvatn Fontana

          This swimming pool complex has only been open since 2010 but as it is conveniently located only an hour away from Reykjavik you can easily stop there if you are doing the Golden Circle tour. It has various steam rooms, a few interconnected mineral baths at different temperatures, sizes and depths and is built using the natural hot springs in the area of lake Laugarvatn. You can just go visit and enjoy the lovely surroundings or book one of the more exclusive tours offered there.


          Reykjadalur Geothermal River

          This is the so-called “Smokey Valley” within easy drive from Reykjavik followed by a short 3km hike. Grafarlaug pool is a small warm spring, not too hot at around 26C, and there are no facilities there

          Sundhöll Selfoss

          If you happen to be in Selfoss, you should visit the public pool there as it is conveniently located in the town center and close to all other facilities and shops. It is a rather big complex with pools and changing rooms both indoors and outdoors, and something for the whole family to enjoy.

          Sundlaugin Laugaskarði

          This pool dates back to 1938 and it’s where the Icelandic National Swimming Team trained until the 1960’s. It has an Olympic size pool, which was for a long time the biggest in the country. The setting is stunning and if you’ve hiked around Reykjadalur it will be a lovely treat to soak in the hot pots, have a sauna or enjoy a few laps in the pool.

          Sundlaugin Hellu (Hella Swimming pool)

          Visiting Hella’s swimming pool can be quite a bit of fun as there are three different waterslides there. You will also be spoilt for choice of pools with a big one for lane swimming and also wading pools and hot tubs. There are many sports facilities at the complex and you might even be able to get a bit of colour on your skin in the tanning area.

          Kirkjubæjarklaustur Sports center

          If you are heading towards Jokulsarlon then you will not be disappointed if you stop and use the facilities at the lovely sports center at Kirkjubæjarklaustur. The place is perfect for some family time as it has a great play pool for the kids and also some hot tubs that adults would love.

          Westman Islands Swimming pool (íþróttamiðstöð Vestmannaeyja)

          Yes, you’ll probably never be able to pronounce the name of this pool but it is nevertheless well worth a visit. The setup is like a mini aquapark but with the added bonus of being built on top of a volcano. You can relax in the different hot tubs or enjoy a more energetic time on the waterslides or the climbing wall that comes right out of the water.

          East Iceland

          Eskifjörður Swimming Pool

          With its spectacular view of the mountains and the bay, relaxing or taking a more energetic swim at Eskifjörður is not going to disappoint you. Easy to access, it’s a must if you are on the east coast of Iceland.

          Neskaupstaður Swimming Pool

          The town of Neskaupstaður was only accessible by sea up until about 50 years ago and the setting for the pool located on the hill above it is just stunning. It’s a lovely area to explore and visiting the pool can be a great start of your day or a relaxing way to unwind after hiking and sightseeing.

          Selárdalslaug Swimming Pool

          Beautifully set in the Eastfjords of Iceland this pool is literally in the middle of nowhere and the perfect way to relax day or night.

          West Iceland

          Snorralaug, Reykholt

          This quaint little hot pool has a historical significance as it is said to have been used since the 12th century by the great poet and writer Snorri Sturluson. Though it is not allowed to swim there now and the water temperature is sometimes too high to bathe anyway, the place is still worth a visit for its beautiful surroundings and cultural value.

          Stykkisholmur Swimming Pool

          The water at this pool and the hot tubs is often used to treat patients who have kidney disease and other ailments. It’s famous for its regenerative powers. This town in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is definitely worth visiting to experience the health effects of the water. A little bit of trivia - it was featured in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

          Landbrotalaug Hot Pot

          This natural hot pot is very different from the big swimming complexes, it’s a really amazing find and even if it takes you awhile to get to it, your senses will thank you. It’s tiny, just big enough for two. There’s another shallower pond nearby that might fit more people in, but the water in it is not so warm, so it’s well worth finding the smaller one for a soak.

          Húsafell Swimming Pool

          Even though it was first built in 1965, the pool at Husafell has been renovated and extended since then. It’s a great way to enjoy the gorgeous surroundings where you can see geothermal springs, mountain creeks and stunning lava formations as you relax in the warm waters of the hot tubs or do a few laps in the pool.

          Westfjords

          Drangsnes Hot Pots

          The Westfjords are quite remote and not that many tourists go there. These three hot tubs fed by the waters of a natural spring are definitely a hidden gem that you’ll love and well worth the journey too. Located right at the level of the sea, just below the road, the tubs are at different temperature ranging from tepid to hot, so you can find your perfect level of comfort and relax even in the depth of winter.

          Krossnes Swimming Pool

          Even though this is claimed to be the most popular pool in the Westfjords you’ll never find Krossneslaug crowded. Perhaps this is because of its remoteness, but it is well worth the journey. It is right on a black beach with beautiful sea views so you’ll relax and unwind the moment you get there.

          Heydalur Geothermal Hot Pot

          Don’t be put off by the remoteness of this amazing hot pot. It’s actually not that far from the country hotel with the same name, and you will be able to relax after your energetic hike as the water is usually around 40C and the settings are well worth it. Its remoteness makes it a great place to watch the Aurora in winter as you soak in the balmy water.

          North Iceland

          Sundlaug Húsavíkur

          If you fancy a visit to a “retro-style” pool, this is the place for you as it has largely remained untouched since it was opened in the 1960’s. It’s easy to access and you have all you can expect from a pool in Iceland without any crowds around you.

          Grjótagjá Geothermal spring, Myvatn 

          This exquisitely beautiful creation of nature is located in a cave near Lake Myvatn and the water is heated by the volcanic activity deep beneath it. At some point in 1975 the water even got so hot due to the eruption of the volcanoes in the area, that the public was forbidden from using it. Luckily this is not the case any more, and even if you are not a fantasy hero like John Snow (for all the Game of Thrones fans, you might recognize the spot as the place where he had a steamy date with Ygritte) you’ll be able to enjoy the relaxed charm of this pool. Just don’t forget to bring a  headlamp if you go there as you will be going down in a dark cave.

          Myvatn Nature Baths

          These natural baths are built on top of a geothermal river and they are sometimes referred to as the “Blue Lagoon of the North”. It’s in the  middle of nowhere which means no light pollution, so if you’re there in winter you’ll be able to enjoy not only the relaxing waters in the pool, but if you are lucky, also see the Aurora Borealis in all its splendour. It’s a very tectonically active area so there you can see steaming lava, mud pots, and even visit a nearby naturally heated underground bakery.


          Akureyri Swimming Pool

          The second biggest city in Iceland and a true capital of the north, Akureyri offers stunning views while you are still within easy walk of many city amenities. The thermally heated pool is located within a short distance from the center, just head uphill from the church and you’ll be there in 10 minutes. It’s a big complex with something for everyone, from lane swimming to relaxing secluded hot pots and a children's (and grown up - the slide is awesome) play area.


          Dalvik Swimming Pool

          Whether you’ve had a day of whale watching or skiing, or just want to relax, Dalvik pool is perfect for that. It’s clean, friendly and easy to get to, so don’t give it a miss if you’re in the area.


          Grettislaug

          This is another round pool built from lava blocks  where you can enjoy a soak in the naturally hot water (around 40°C). According to the saga about Grettir the Strong, the outlaw took a restful dip in the hot pot after his famous 7km swim from Drangey island to the mainland. Relax, you don’t have to wade through the ice-cold sea waters to be able to enjoy a pleasant time at Grettislaug. There are now two pools there from which you can marvel at the spectacular settings in peace and quiet.


          Highlands

          Landmannalaugar

          The location of this natural hot pool is striking even according to Icelandic standards. You can bathe here all year round and the temperature varies slightly around a comfortably warm 36 to 40°C. This will allow for a pleasant soak or gentle swim in full view of the orangey-red rhyolite mountains that surround the area.

          Strútslaug Geothermal River

          This hot spring is the love child of a geothermal and a glacial river converging together between the Torfajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers. It’s not easy to get to, but the 2-hour hike through valleys and volcanic sands, gazing at the glaciers and mountains is a great preamble to immersing yourself in the blissfully gentle waters of the pool.

          Víti Geothermal Lake, Askja

          As it is located in one of the most remote parts of the Icelandic Highlands, this lake is only accessible from June to October. Even though the name actually means “hell”, once you get there it will feel just like the opposite.

          Hveravellir Hot Pot

          This pool has the unique advantage of two sources of water flowing into it - hot and cold - so the temperature can be controlled to reach a pleasant state. The water flow is quick, which ensures the pool is always clean and it’s renowned for its health benefits. You can enjoy the views towards Langjökull and Hofsjökull glaciers, and the Kjalhraun lava field as you relax in the waters.

          Leirubakki, Hekla

          This pool, known as the Viking pool, blends perfectly with its surroundings. The water here is warmish rather than hot and the pool is lined with stones and surrounded by lava walls. It’s very popular with tourists all year round as it’s great for enjoying the midnight sun in summer and the Northern lights in winter.


          If you’ve got as far as the end of this post, you are most likely convinced that swimming is an obsession for us Icelanders. And this is the absolute truth! We hope to prove to you that our country is the perfect place to fall in love with pools, hot pots, geothermal springs and that everyone, old and young, active or more laid back, sun or winter lover, can find a place to discover the beauty of Iceland’s water world.

          Gunnar Steinn
          Gunnar Steinn



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